Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are Dog Training Classes Really For The Dogs?

The more work I'm doing with Cookie, the more I'm wondering, how much do  dogs really need the training classes and how much do we?

Of course, in many cases they need it too.

The presence of other people and dogs during the work is important. In some cases, such as shy dog classes or reactive dog classes the presence of other people and dogs and controlled situations are crucial.

But more and more I come to truly realize that it is me who needs the classes the most.

You can think you know what you're doing all you want, but do you, really? I thought I did. After all, I read a long list of dog behavior and dog training books, watched a whole bunch of videos, so I know everything, right?

I got the theory figured out but actually doing it is a whole other animal.

Could one learn how to swim from books and then just jump into the water and not drown? Perhaps, but I bet it wouldn't be pretty.

There is nothing wrong with theory and understanding concepts is important.

But half an hour of doing is worth of a hundred days of reading about it.

It's about the little things. The technique, the timing. And about confidence. Confidence doesn't come from reading, only from doing.

Of course, I was teaching and training my dogs before too.

It's always been good enough, though I always wished for better results. So you try and work at it and than figure it's the dog. Must be, right? Too smart. Too stupid. Too stubborn. Too young. Too old. Too distracted. Too anxious ...

It's not the dog. It's in the way you hold your tongue.

Cookie is a happy girl, wanting to please. Very forgiving in training. However, attending our reactive dog classes I realize how many things I was doing wrong. And since I believed that was the way to do it, I kept practicing doing them wrong. It took a professional pair of eyes and guidance to help me figure that out.

It's all the little things. How I was holding the leash. How I was trying to get attention. Timing of the rewards. Technique of redirection. Even the size of the treats matters! Wow.

When I watched the trainer handling Cookie, I was amazed.

And I felt like a horrible handler. Why can't I get her to do things like that?

Little pointers from the trainer are getting me on the right path. I see I have a long way to go; not as much training Cookie as training myself to train Cookie properly.

I am so glad I decided to enroll in this class.

I was slow to make that decision because our prior experience with dog training classes and personal dog trainers wasn't very good. Yes, not all trainers were created equal either.

But these people really know what they're doing. It makes such a difference.

Cookie can now do all the exercises with all the other dogs and people around and not go nuts at all. She can sit there as one of the decoy dogs, having a dog weave around and stay focused on me. She can weave around other dogs and stay focused on me. Well, 90% of the time. We still have work to do.

One thing I learned is this. If it's not working, don't blame the dog. Figure out what you're doing wrong.

And get professional help. It's such a shortcut. So much faster and easier than trying to get there by trial and error.

Related articles:
From The End Of A Lead Line To Casa Jasmine: Meet Cookie, Our New Adoptee
Creative Solutions And An Incidental Product Review
Taming Of The Wild Beast: Cookie's Transition To Civilization  
Staying On Top Of The Ears: Cookie Is Not Impressed  
Who's Training Whom? Stick And Treat 
Observation Skills Of Dogs  
If You Want Your Dog To Do Something, Teach It  
Tricks? It's Not Just About The Tricks 
What Constitutes The Perfect Dog? 


  1. When a professional dog trainer I had taken classes with for years suggested that I teach a class in her facility I was shocked. Besides living with dogs my whole life, I don't know anything about them or how to train them! But I she told me her professional secret "you don't train dogs, you train people." So dog training classes are actually people training classes! And having been a teacher since graduating college, it turns out I was quite good at training people.

    1. Yeah, it's true, isn't it? It's just disguised as dog training classes :-)

  2. I agree with you 100%. We were getting nowhere with our fearful Maggie on our own. But a few short sessions with a trainer made all the difference. Sometimes you just need a professional.

    1. Yes, sometimes you just do. And it can make such a difference.

  3. I love dog training classes, and I agree they are definitely for the humans. They're good for the dogs, too, of course. I think it's important for the dogs to learn how to work calmly around other dogs.

    But yeah, I've learned so much over the years by taking my dogs to training classes. I learn a lot by observing the instructors and also by observing what some of the other handlers are doing wrong. It's also just a great way to build a more solid relationship with my dog.

    1. Yes, they are important for the dogs also. But so much more for us, aren't they?

  4. The first day of obedience class for Bailey back when he was a pup there were no dogs. The reason we were told is to help us understand that while the dogs were participants in the class, the main focus was in training us. It was our behaviors that had to change if we wanted more appropriate responses from our dogs. While I don't remember all the techniques that piece of advice has always stuck with me.

    1. That makes perfect sense. Sounds like you found a good place too.

  5. I always explain to the humans in my class that they will be learning how to teach their dogs the behaviors they would like. Classes can be a good support group for people and many friendships are formed between people and dogs.